Last year I took the opportunity to review a decade of Friends of Northampton Castle existence, that address is still accessible on our Website. At the time it seemed right to review what we had achieved in the face of exceptional circumstances. What I did not expect was for that extraordinary set of circumstances to continue fitfully, through to the present. This last year, with a few exceptions, has seen us in retreat. Zoom meetings each month have kept some of our volunteers engaged, though this has been limited by what activities we could plan. Discussion with local authorities about the future of the Heritage Gateway have been interrupted, confusing and occasionally deeply frustrating. We have also lost a good and knowledgeable supporter with the death of Mike Ingram.
We were, however, able to join a revived Spring Boroughs Summer festival in 2021 and could hearten ourselves by the welcome we received from the hundreds of local residents who attended. At that stage we were able to continue our partnership with Looking Glass Theatre, introducing 4 important Northampton historical figures (including Peter the Saracen) who interacted happily with the present day over a period of hours. Yet despite our best efforts, Looking Glass Theatre was not able to continue at Hazelrigg House and our partnership with them had to end in the run up to Christmas. We now have a fledgling new partnership with Delapre Abbey and hope that it will flourish as we provide them with the de Senlis connection to the town centre and they provide us with more opportunities for workshops for children. Our individual volunteers have given their time and expertise freely and I am particularly thankful to them in this difficult year.
However, with the loss of Hazelrigg and still without the Heritage Park , there is distinct lack of a base for heritage work within the area of Northampton Castle. We look forward to seeing the Old Black Lion renovated by CCT and WNC but now understand that there will not be a visitor centre, except in the sense of providing hospitality facilities for St Peter’s Church events. The present proposals from WNC limit the heritage park to the dimensions of the Chalk Lane car park, with no detailed plan and no holistic vision for the area as a whole.
Friends of Northampton Castle began life a decade ago as the response to the enthusiasm of local young people and we tried to use their media to engage. Our VR headset and virtual tours of the Castle have continued to provide a way of engaging with the past in a lively way. It is arguable that we should go back to that beginning and rebuild from there. But if Northampton’s past is ever to be a part of its future I suspect we will still need some physical manifestation of its startling and exciting history. There is a battle still to be had for Northampton’s history.